Sunday, November 7, 2021
The Widow’s Mite
The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy TX 77493
The setting for the last two weeks of our readings is the time after Palm Sunday and Jesus’ cleansing the temple. He is being tested and questioned by the chief priests and the scribes. These two groups are obviously not happy with this crazy rabbi from the sticks.
They begin by questioning his authority. Then he proceeds to teach the crowds with the parable of the wicked tenants which is a thinly veiled criticism of these same priests and scribes. They test with questions about paying taxes, resurrection and asking what is the greatest commandment in the reading we heard last week.
So who were these scribes that are questioning Jesus? Why was he so upset with them? Originally secular officials, scribes were highly educated in writing, legal and financial dealings. This placed them in contact with those who had money. After the exile and the building of the second temple with the focus on the law, they became powerful in the religious community as well.
This power made them seek fame and many wanted to become the center of attention. They demanded and were given respect. They wanted the “best seats” in the synagogue. And of course the best seats at the banquet also meant the best food and wine. They liked to dress in fine clothes and in general show off their wealth and power. Long robes meant you did not do physical labor for a job.
This provides the setting for today’s confrontation. There were two ways that people would give a gift to the temple. The offering could be taken to the priest who would announce the amount of the gift and the purpose. Somehow I suspect this was with great drama and praise for the great giver. Or it would involve dropping coins into one of 13 trumpet shaped receptacles in the court of women. Now this is not a pledge card, a check or even paper money being placed in these brass trumpets. These were coins and I suspect they made sure there were plenty of them. Think how that would sound!
That would certainly make for quite a show with lots of noise. You can almost see them saying “Look at me, I’m special. I am wonderful. I am generous.” And of course that also means, I am better than you.
Then comes the widow. I have some I wonder questions. How much noise do you suppose her gift would make? Would the priest proudly announce what she gave? Was she embarrassed by how small her gift was? Or was she proud that she gave everything?
Widows were to be cared for, but there is evidence that these scribes rather than caring for the widows apparently was taking advantage of them. Taking their last penny to run the temple. Which, by the way, Jesus had already declared corrupt and deserving to be torn town. He was not talking about the temple itself but the entire system of temple worship. That is what was behind the cleansing of the temple on the previous day.
What Jesus was complaining about was that the scribes were not making a generous gift. Their gift was about power. We have all met the person who gives, but there is a catch and expectation that their gifts entitle them to some special consideration of some sort. Because of their they giving expected a reward of some sort. I don’t know any priest that hasn’t run into this type of pressure even if they do not know what a member pledges. This type of scribe will be sure to tell you. I will say I have not experience this at St. Paul’s and that is wonderfully refreshing.
The generous gift is the person and we have many in the parish, who says, “That needs to be taken care of. How much do you need and please it needs to be anonymous.” This is a different way to give. Generosity means giving without expectation of some special return. Generosity is responding to an unexpected gift and sharing a portion with the parish. One person said to me the other day I do what I do because I have been blessed. I need to share my blessing with others. Generosity is giving because that is what we are called to do in response to a generous God.
Stewardship is about so much more than just money although that is what we focus on in the fall as we plan our budgets. Stewardship is about caring for the world in general. It can involve everything from being wise in our use of the earth and her resources to how we care for each and every one of God’s creatures in all of creation. Stewardship is also about caring for each other as well as the less fortunate.
You see the Old Testament tithe lets us off cheap. Jesus wants all of us not just 10%. Bishop Michael Curry tells a story about being in a church in Botswana. They sang an old favorite hymn and it is one we will sing later today. Take my life and let it be. This is the stewardship the generosity that Jesus not only asks but demands.
Can we take a moment and look at the words of that hymn #707
Now what Bishop Curry points out is that in our version a verse is missing. That verse directly ties into today’s gospel. The key words are: Take my silver and my gold, Not a mite would I withhold. The issue is truly not about money but about lives given to God. Giving ourselves to God and allowing God to hold us and care for us. This is a mutual giving and receiving that requires our egos to be set aside and that may be the toughest gift to give. This is about surrender to God. I believe that this is what the widow is all about.
This parish has been built by generous givers and faithful servants. People who have given of their time, talent and treasure. Some of those servants are no longer with us and we celebrate them with the prayer flags hanging all around the nave. We would not be here without their gifts and we acknowledge them on this All Saints Sunday. It is why I like to do the in-gathering on pledge cards at this service. This is how we keep the work of these saints growing as we move forward into our future.
Everything we have is gift. A gift from the one who created us. All things come from thee oh Lord, and of thine own we have we given thee.